Interview With SMG's Laura Desmond


Laura Desmond is the Global CEO for Starcom MediaVest Group. The Égalitarian recently had a chance to interview Laura about her take on the communications industry and the ways Publicis Groupe can better help its clients and brands connect with members of the LGBT community. THE ÉGALITARIAN: SMG once again achieved a perfect score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index, owing to its transgender-inclusive health benefits. What does this mean to you, the agency and your employees? LAURA: First, I am so proud that SMG has once again been recognized with this distinction. We believe in celebrating differences and embracing diverse viewpoints, and this perfect score validates that we are bringing to life our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion with real and meaningful actions. Our employees are our most valuable asset, enabling us to better serve the diverse needs of our clients and consumers. The success of our business depends on the ability to recruit and retain the best employees in a global market for talent - regardless of their sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. A diverse environment is a stronger environment. THE ÉGALITARIAN: You recently joined Rich Stoddart (Leo) and Tony Weisman (Digitas) in speaking out in support of same-sex marriage in Illinois. Tell us what this has meant to the agency and your position in the industry? Has this posed any problems for any of your client relationships? LAURA: We’re a people business. We’re a human experience company so we’re also a human rights company. Our people are the single most important thing to us and our clients. And to understand consumers and their struggles is to understand the minority viewpoint, no matter the origin. So the decision to support same-sex marriage was made through the lens of our people and aligning with our employees’ core values. We employ over 7,000 people in this company, and we support a work environment where diversity is embraced and where our differences are valued and respected. And we’re in good company. Our clients like Microsoft, Mondelez, and Allstate have also openly supported same-sex marriage. THE ÉGALITARIAN: From a marketing perspective, can you share work that SMG clients are doing to specifically target the LGBT consumer? Are there any missed opportunities you see on a macro level? Do you think there are any clients best poised to target the LGBT community that may not be doing any marketing now? LAURA: LGBT consumers represent a powerful buying community that marketers simply cannot afford to ignore. As far as our client work goes, there are many campaigns that we were very proud to partner on. One great example that stands out is Allstate’s “Equality Is” campaign, because we overcame a major challenge that was making a meaningful and lasting connection to a liberal audience traditionally skeptical of big businesses. The actual campaign work also stood out because many LGBT-focused campaigns use imagery of stereotypically beautiful people, and they’re rarely shown as everyday, committed LGBT couples in relationships. Our campaign purposely used images of real people to showcase the wide spectrum of the LGBT community. THE ÉGALITARIAN: Do you think there is a best-in-class example of LGBT marketing in the industry? LAURA: I think the most effective LGBT marketing creates inclusive mainstream media and truly reflects the values of the brand. I think there have been many successful examples, especially in the last year. One that stands out is when Oreo posted a rainbow-stuffed Oreo cookie with the headline “Proudly Support Love!” on its Facebook page in honor of Gay Pride month. The social engagement it drove was incredible – resulting in more than 231,000 likes and nearly 40,000 comments, while going viral on a number of other social media platforms after its release. Although not everyone was a fan of the ad, it demonstrated Kraft Foods’ history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness and the buzz about the image showed how relevant Oreo is to people even after 100 years. THE ÉGALITARIAN: In what ways has SMG leveraged LGBTid, its proprietary LGBT segmentation study, to its advantage? As a senior member of the Groupe, do you see opportunities at SMG for any LGBT-inclusive opportunities that we might not be aware of? LAURA: As was recently demonstrated by the tremendous outpouring of support after NBA player Jason Collins announced his sexuality, attitudes about gay men and women are shifting at every level of our society. The LGBTid study was designed to expose expanding opportunities for advertisers interested in learning about and communicating with the LGBT community and society’s evolving attitudes and perceptions of it. The study gave us a road map to key motivations, influences and values impacting brand and communication decisions that we now use as a working document to inform creative and communications strategies in the LGBT space. As a direct result of the work we were able to increase investment level and we are looking for additional opportunities this year to continue to drive experience design with new clients using our proprietary research as a platform. Its work we were proud of on a human level and has been very successful with from a business perspective.

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